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Canadian wildfires summer outlook: Drought 'huge driver' for risk

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Emergency officials in Ottawa and British Columbia are warning intense drought could mean an increased likelihood of large, challenging fires this summer.

"As we get into the core of the fire season, namely July and August, that underlying drought is really going to play a huge driver in bringing us intense fires," Matt MacDonald, the lead fire weather forecaster for the BC Wildfire Service, told reporters in Vancouver Thursday.

Officials in B.C. are particularly concerned about the low snowpack in the province, confirming Thursday that it is currently only 57 per cent of the norm. The province says the low snowpack will limit surface runoff, stream flows, and fuel moisture recharge, which could make for a potentially dangerous recipe come July and August.

Emergency Preparedness Minister Harjit Sajjan also provided an update Thursday in Ottawa, on the drought-stricken regions considered highest risk across the country.

"Key areas of concern include northeastern British Columbia, northern Alberta, south central Northwest Territories, and northern Quebec," Sajjan said.

This year has actually started relatively slowly on the fire front, according to Sajjan.

"The good news is the number of fires is well below average for this time of the year, it’s also well below the 10-year average for the total area burned."

That is expected to change as the temperature climbs. Environment Canada is already warning the chance of a hotter than average summer is virtually 100 per cent almost everywhere east of Manitoba. Above average heat is also expected on the prairies, and out west, but with less certainty.

Sajjan spoke alongside Energy and Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson who touted new government investment in the yearly wildfire fight, coming off a record-breaking 2023.

"Last summer Canadians experienced the most destructive forest fire season in Canadian history. The federal government has been working and is working aggressively to ensure Canadians are prepared."

Wilkinson pointed to Ottawa's $250 million investment in new equipment, and $28 million for more help on the front line.

"We’re on track to train 1,000 additional firefighters by the end of this year, which is three years ahead of schedule," Wilkinson said.

In B.C., the provincial government is making it easier for fire evacuees to access support, increasing the accommodation allowance to $200 per night, which is now available through Interac e-transfer as well as at evacuation centres.

"By increasing the accommodation allowance and giving people the option to receive financial support directly to their bank account we're empowering people with more options to find suitable accommodation for themselves and their loved ones during times of crisis," B.C.’s Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness, Bowinn Ma, said in a statement.

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